Most Powerful Women in Banking: No. 25, Sound Community Bank's Laura Lee Stewart
President and CEO, Sound Community Bank
Laura Lee “Laurie” Stewart often jokes that she has never met a microphone that she didn’t like.
That willingness to speak up is likely to come in handy in her latest role as chairman of the American Bankers Association. Stewart, president and CEO of $698 million-asset Sound Community Bank in Washington, will be only the third woman to hold the position in more than 140 years.
She’s already aiming to make use of her tenure, which starts in October and lasts a year. In addition to supporting educational initiatives to get younger people interested in a career in banking, she wants to highlight the increasing phenomena of credit unions buying banks.
More than 10 banks have agreed to sell to credit unions this year, a record. Stewart fears communities are hurt by the loss of tax revenue because as credit unions, those institutions would be exempt from state and federal income tax.
“This is an issue that diminishes communities and is important to review from [a] public policy perspective,” Stewart said.
Stewart is perhaps uniquely prepared to tackle the issue because she led the conversion of Sound, which was formerly called A.G.E. Federal Credit Union, from a credit union to a mutual savings bank in 2003.
Stewart has spoken up before during her long career in banking, including while chair of the Washington Bankers Association for two years and on advisory boards for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She also previously chaired the governmental affairs committee for the ABA.
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She hopes her latest role as chairman of ABA will let her go further in promoting diversity and inclusion in the C-suite. She’s already taken a personal approach to the issue at Sound, where the chief financial officer and chief operating officer are both women.
She highlighted that fact earlier this year, when NASDAQ asked Stewart to ring the closing bell, bringing along her CFO, COO and chief credit officer to help. She also held a raffle for an employee to win an all-expenses paid trip to attend, encouraging all of her attendees to bring their daughters with them.
Ultimately, four young girls got to attend the event, and Stewart hopes this is just one more way to inspire the next generation of female business leaders.
“I envision a world where young girls do not question if they can achieve a certain role, profession or skill,” Stewart said. “I hope the daughters of our [executives] were empowered and inspired by being part of the ‘girl power.’”